Imagery and Traditions
Here is where the waters become murky. I have been to a Chiefs game, and it is completely common practice for fans to put on face paint like a Native American might have done, to even wear headdresses and perform the Tomahawk Chop to rev the team up.
It’s these traditions and images that are crossing the line into the realm of being offensive. When it comes to the painting of faces and the chop, you are no longer using a common term like “chiefs” for your team name, or adopting a common symbol such as an arrowhead for your team, you are now appropriating another culture that is not your own, to suit the needs of your own fandom and your sports team.
Not only that, but the parts of the culture that are being used, are depicting that culture to be one of savages. To the fans that see no issue with painting their face like a Native American, I ask you this. What is the difference between painting your face like a Native American, and black face? I see no difference.
I will not be hypocritical and say that I have never participated in the Tomahawk Chop, because of course I have, and I enjoyed doing so. At the time, I could justify it to myself because I knew I was just having fun, that there was no offense meant, but it is not up to us as sports fans or us as people to decide what others might be offended by.
The face paint and the tomahawk chop may be all in good fun, with absolutely no malice intended. However, it is not about the motive behind the actions, but rather how it lands with others.
I might tell a dirty joke at my work to a group of guys, with absolutely no harmful intentions behind the joke, but if a woman overheard the joke and found it offensive, then I would owe that woman an apology, regardless of how I meant it or if I was just having fun and it isn’t a reflection on how I really feel.
As some of you might know from reading other pieces I have written, I am completely blind. I am not offended by the depiction of blind people in films and television, but where I start to cringe a bit is when blind people are depicted as being clumsy and helpless people who walk around running into everything.
Certainly blind people use canes, and a lot of them wear sunglasses, including myself. But there is a lot more to the blind culture than just those attributes, just as there is so much more to Native American culture then putting on face paint and headdresses and beating drums. It might all be all in good fun, but it isn’t about the intention behind the actions, but rather how the actions land with others that matters.